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Just 1 hour of TV linked to violence
 
Study of teens shows boys especially at risk  
One hour may be the right cut-off point for adolescents watching television, researchers say.
 

MSNBC NEWS SERVICES
March 28 —  Teen-agers who watch more than an hour of television a day are much more likely to become violent in later years than the rare adolescent who watches less, researchers reported on Thursday.

     
     
       
   
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Many studies have shown that people simply become inured to violence when they see a lot of it — either in real life or on television.
JEFFREY JOHNSON
Columbia University
       ONE OF THE most definitive studies yet to link watching television with violent behavior finds both men and women are affected by violent programs on television — but teen-aged boys are especially at risk.
       “We saw the jump was between less than one hour and more than one hour a day. There was a four-fold increase,” said Jeffrey Johnson of Columbia University in New York, who led the study.
       “Our findings suggest that, at least during early adolescence, responsible parents should avoid permitting their children to watch more than one hour of television a day,” Johnson said.
       Johnson, a psychiatric epidemiologist who studies patterns of behavior, said 60 percent of TV programming contained violence.
       An average hour of television portrays three to five violent acts, the American Psychological Association says.
       Johnson’s team tracked 707 children, most of them white and Catholic, who took part in a study in upstate New York.
       The children, aged between 1 and 10 when the 17-year study started, were interviewed several times. The researchers also checked state and federal arrest records.
       
WATCHING FOR THE WRONG REASONS
       The link between watching television and behaving violently was clear even after the researchers accounted for other factors such as childhood neglect, low family income, or a psychiatric disorder during adolescence.
       Researchers said that in some families these factors did in fact lead to more television watching.

Sign up for our health e-newsletter        “Childhood neglect, growing up in an unsafe neighborhood, low family income, low parental education, and psychiatric disorders were significantly associated with time spent watching television at mean age 14 and with aggressive behavior reported at mean age 16 or 22,” they wrote.
       The study appears in Friday’s issue of the journal Science.
       Among youths who watched less than an hour of television daily at age 14, just 5.7 percent were involved in aggressive acts by the ages of 16 to 22, the study found.
       For those who watched between one and three hours, the aggression rate jumped to 22.5 percent, and the rate was 28.8 percent for those who watched more than three hours, the study found.
       The effect was most pronounced for boys with rates of 8.9 percent committing aggressive acts for those who watched less than an hour of TV at age 14, 32.5 percent for one to three hours and 45.2 percent for those watching more than three hours of television. For girls the rates were 2.3 percent, 11.8 percent and 12.7 percent, respectively.
       The study also looked at young adults, measuring television time at age 22 and the odds of a violent or aggressive acts by 30.
       Overall, just 7.2 percent of 22-year-olds who watched less than an hour of television daily were later involved in aggressive acts. For those watching one to three hours the rate rises to 9 percent and at more than three hours it is 17.8 percent.
       The rates for males were 14.6 percent, 14 percent, and 18.8 percent. For women the rates were 0 percent, 3.9 percent and 16.8 percent.
       Violent acts by males included assault and fighting that led to injuries, while violent behavior by young women generally involved robbery and threats to injure someone.
       While other studies have linked watching violent television to later aggressive behavior, Johnson said this is the first to investigate the total amount of time individuals spent watching and to follow those people over many years.
       “The evidence has gotten to the point where it’s overwhelming,” Johnson said.
       A researcher whose 1998 analysis found increased violent behavior in youths who watched more than six hours of television daily welcomed the report.
       Mark I. Singer of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, who was not connected to the new research, said it was “an important study” that covered a significant period of time and took into account potential outside influences.
       He said part of the importance of the new report is the indication that there is a relationship in both sexes between television viewing and aggressive behavior.
       Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters, said he has not seen the study but found the results surprising.
       “Anyone who watches much television knows that broadcast television is far more tame in program content than that found on cable and satellite,” he said. He cited recent research that suggests violence on TV has fallen over the past two years.
       
MECHANISMS AT WORK
       Johnson said several mechanisms are at work. “One of the most important one is the tendency to imitate behavior that people see on TV,” he said.
       “We are social beings and we tend to want to try out things that we see other people doing, especially if we see the person rewarded for what they did or portrayed as a hero for it.”
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       Johnson said many studies had shown that people simply become inured to violence when they see a lot of it — either in real life or on television.
       “It has been shown that viewing media violence leads to a desensitization effect,” he said. “The more violence that they see, the less negative, the more normal, it seems to them.”
       Perhaps people who watch lots of television lose their social skills, Johnson said, or never develop them.
       “So when they get into a conflict with somebody else, whether it is road rage, whatever the situation might be ... they may not be able to work their way out of it gracefully. They may resort to something like verbal aggression and they may even start throwing verbal punches because they don’t know what else to do,” he said.
       
       The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
       
 
       
   
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